Baby Cord Care

Caring for your baby’s umbilical cord is one of the jobs of every new parent. Luckily, baby cord care for most is an easy job! Historically, in some cultures the placenta and umbilical cord have spiritual significance and unique practices for cord cutting and preservation abound, so I will not claim that this is a totally comprehensive article on all-matters cord related. But for those who simply want to know what to expect regarding the cutting of the cord, cord care at home, and a few keepsake ideas, these baby cord care tips are all you need to know.

Cutting the Cord

  • Unless you are planning a lotus birth, your baby’s cord will be clamped and cut after birth before. When the cord is “wet,” it is a fleshy white color and there are blood vessels inside the cord. The blood in the cord is part of your baby’s circulation. It is your baby’s blood. Clamping assures that no blood is lost by the baby through the cord when it is cut.
  • Before clamping the cord, if you wish, you can reach down and pinch the cord between your fingers. Begin with a light hold, and increase the pressure between your fingers gradually until you feel a pulsing like the tick of a watch. This pulse matches your baby’s heart beat! Feeling it may become a sensory memory you never forget. Most cords stop pulsing within minutes after the birth. Recent research shows that allowing the baby’s cord to stop pulsing before it is clamped may be beneficial for your baby. During this pulsing blood is moved from the placenta into your baby, resulting in increased blood volume. If you would like to allow the cord to stop pulsing before cutting, discuss this during a prenatal appointment with your midwife or doctor.
  • There are no nerve endings in the cord, and cutting the cord causes no pain for your baby. It is a bit of a tradition to ask the birthing mother’s partner or another loved one to cut the cord. It is totally up to you to decide if you would like to do this, or have your midwife, doctor, or nurse do it. Some of my clients really appreciate cutting the cord. It is pretty tough, and experiencing the strength of the cord is impressive. Others find meaning in this act that signifies the baby’s start to life as their own separate physiological unit. That being said, cutting the cord isn’t for everyone, and there is certainly no judgement if you prefer to leave it to the pros. The cord can be bloody when it is cut even if the cord is properly clamped because of the blood remaining in the cord between clamps.  Your doctor or midwife will reduce this amount of blood by milking the cord before placing the second clamp.  The clamp may look like a scissors, but there is no sharp cutting surface. If you are cutting the cord your care provider will hand you sterilized scissors and ask you not to touch the blades.  This assures that the blades remain sterile, which protects your baby against a cord infection.

Baby Cord Care

  • The cut end of the cord will begin to dry at birth. A day after the birth, the end of the cord is usually dry and a dark brown or black color. Once the end is hard and dry it is safe to remove the clamp from the cord.
  • The part of the cord attached to your baby’s body will dry more slowly.  For good baby cord care, it does not need to be cleaned with anything more than simple water. If you prefer, you can also simply leave the cord alone. Overtime, it will become dry and will fall off on its own, usually within 4-14 days. Cord separation is a process facilitated by our good bacteria friends, who literally eat away the dying flesh. Bad bacteria can cause infection in the cord, which is rare but serious. In comparing baby cord care methods, there have been studies looking at cleaning the cord stump with either alcohol, antibacterial cleaners, water, or nothing. No cleaning methods have been shown to reduce infection rates. However, cleaning with alcohol and antibacterial cleaners may prolong the days until separation naturally occurs.
  • There is nothing you can do to influence if your baby’s belly button will be an innie or an outie, and outies are not caused by pulling on the cord.
  • If your baby’s cord is a bit gooey around the base and has an odor, you can clean it up for your benefit, but there is no medical need. In addressing this aspect of baby cord care, I find a moistened cotton swab to be the easiest way to clean around the base. If water is not doing the trick try soaking the cotton swab in hydrogen peroxide.  It breaks down body fluids well, but is not as irritating to the skin as alcohol.
  • Keep the cord stump out of your baby’s diaper so it remains dry and is not contaminated with feces or urine. Newborn diapers often come with a cut out for the cord. If the diapers you are using do not have a cut out, or if they are large on your baby, roll the top edge down so that it is below the cord.
  • Sometimes the dried tip of the cord has sharp edges because of the way it was compressed by the clamp before drying. Be careful that these edges do not catch on the baby’s clothes. If your baby has scratches on their abdomen from the edges of their cord, the end of the cord can be re-cut or filed as long as the area you are cutting is completely dry.
  • It is normal for the cord to stink when it partially or fully separates, and mild bleeding is also normal. If your baby’s cord bleeds several times, or bleeds enough to warrant more than a few dabs with a square of toilet paper, give your baby’s doctor a call to explain what you are seeing. If there is an open wound in the belly button after a cord has fully or partially separated they may want to look at it and be sure it is healing together properly on its own.
  • If the base of the cord, or the skin around the cord, becomes red and swollen, or if there is excessive purulent drainage, you should notify the baby’s doctor. These signs could indicate an infection. Infections are rare but may be serious. When in doubt, call and ask.

That’s all there is to it! Nature does most of the work necessary for baby cord care, and these little cord stumps really are more hearty than you might think. If caring for your baby’s cord has been concerning you, fear no more! You are totally prepared to care for your baby’s healthy cord, and to spot the rare signs that something isn’t going as planned.

Cord Keepsakes

For many, your interaction with the cord ends the day it falls off and you drop that little stump into the bathroom trash can. For others, saving the cord is a fun endeavor.

When I first encountered little dried up cord stumps taped into baby books, I must admit I thought it was odd or even a little gross. But honestly, I’ve seen a lot of them! You are not alone if you wish to create a keepsake from this remnant of the cord that was once shared between mom and baby. And I have come to appreciate the attachment people feel to this remnant of the physical connection once shared between a baby and their biological mother.

There are now beautiful ways of creating keepsakes from your baby’s cord that are, in my opinion, not only slight improvements over scotch taped sandwich baggies in baby books, but honestly inspiring, moving pieces of art. My favorite examples of art made from your baby’s cord are the histology slide artworks made by Little Cord Art. They take a cross section from your baby’s cord at birth and create beautiful canvas prints of the intricate cellular composition of the cord itself. I’ve always been astonished by biology, and I think these prints are an awe-inspiring way to appreciate the miracle that life is.

Another option is to take a longer section of your baby’s cord and dry it shaped into a ring or a heart. One of my clients places their dried cord on their Christmas tree every year. I know someone else who has it discretely hung from a ribbon tied around a lamp shade. This is often popular with people who also make placenta prints.

The dried cord stump itself can be saved in a frame by cutting a window in 1/4 inch foam board to create enough space in a small frame to add thin items. I have seen these added to collage frames including hospital admission bracelets, locks of hair, and other newborn mementos.

You can also simply take a picture of your baby that shows their cord. These photos are often interesting to young children and sometimes spur some fun conversations with your toddler or preschooler about how life worked before they were born. They also are useful for sibling prep when number two comes along.

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